ND Subramaniam with his son Umesh at their residence in Sonari, Jamshedpur, on Tuesday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
On a day the Centre unveiled its railway budget, parents of some of Jharkhand’s most special citizens aired their views on why air-conditioned travel for their wards was not a luxury but a necessity, rising ticket prices or not.
Fathers of mentally challenged athletes in Jamshedpur are unhappy with Special Olympics Bharat (SOB), Jharkhand unit, for sending boys to outstation tourneys by sleeper class allegedly for the past three years.
The issue has been simmering on the minds of parents ever since Md Azharuddin, a special athlete, died inside a sleeper class bogie this summer.
The SOB, a centrally aided outfit, permits AC three-tier or two-tier travel for special athletes. But they are sent by sleeper class, the ostensible reason being last-minute reservations.
SOB (Jharkhand) functionaries say they are obliged to make last-minute reservations because last-minute change in travel plans of special athletes is almost the norm.
Even if that is so, counter the parents, the SOB (Jharkhand) should put in extra effort to ensure special athletes — mentally and physically challenged youths who often aren’t able to communicate verbally their discomfort during travel — get AC berths.
N.D. Subramaniam (76), a retired Tata Motors (formerly Telco) employee, said he can’t sleep at night when his mentally challenged athlete son Umesh (37) travels in sleeper class. Sales tax consultant Baijnath Sharma (43), whose 18-year-old mentally challenged son Akash is also an athlete, says he “prays for his safe return”.
Both the dads were outraged that their wards had to travel by sleeper class in Tatanagar Jammu-Tawi Express as a part of the 15-member state contingent to the national powerlifting meet in Patiala this June.
“Officials took the boys by sleeper class when summer was at its peak. That’s when my son’s teammate Azharuddin died. This is not about elitism, heat and cramped environs pose a health threat to special athletes,” Subramaniam said.
When the train chugged from Tatanagar on June 1, Umesh’s coach called Subramaniam, saying the youth was feeling unwell. “I told the coach to hand my son to the station master in Muri and I’d pick him from there. But the station master refused, so Umesh had to carry on,” said the elderly resident of Sonari.
The 76-year-old Subramaniam sought his railway employee nephew’s help to get a reservation to Patiala where he rushed to put up Umesh in a decent three- star hotel. The father-son duo returned home by AC three-tier. “I was scared for his health,” he said.
“Now, I will think twice before allowing my son to represent Jharkhand in any Special Olympics event. His health and life are most valuable to me,” he adds with finality.
Sharma goes a step further. “I won’t send Akash to any Special Olympics events. I had vehemently opposed it when the team was sent (to Patiala) in sleeper class. Officials told me not to worry. Look what happened to Azharuddin. It could have been Akash,” he said, adding he kept praying and worrying.
“We don’t get AC reservation and are forced to adopt a uniform policy of sending teams by sleeper class,” said Special Olympics (Jharkhand) assistant area director Satbir Singh Sahota.
Both the fathers dismiss Sahota’s logic.
“Special Olympics Bharat issues a national events calendar in advance. Where’s the problem?” asked Subramaniam.